To Be Enlightened is a cosmic love story that follows Professor of Philosophy Abe Levy as he grapples with what it means to love both his wife, Sarah, and the ocean of silence within. It is also an intellectual exploration of the most intimate of subjects: our consciousness.
Abe Levy’s long tenure as a philosophy professor has motivated thousands of students to ponder age-old questions in light of New Age ideas. Though Abe is passionate about his teaching, he is obsessed with a powerful childhood dream of heaven. To return to that heaven, he must reach enlightenment in his lifetime. Day after day, Abe settles into deep meditation, reaching the very cusp of his goal but unable to cross the threshold. Desperately, he commits to doing whatever it takes, even if it means abandoning his wife for a more ascetic life-a decision that sets off a cascade of consequences for Abe, Sarah, and those he loves the most.
What is your book about? What is the storyline?
In the late 1960s, college students around the world began to meditate in search of enlightenment. What if over 50 years later, their efforts began to bear fruit? That’s the essence of my book. It’s a cosmic love story that shows the tension between a philosophy professor, who has a great desire for higher consciousness, and his feeling that his longtime wife is holding him back—because she’s afraid of the separation that would be caused by his attaining a higher state of consciousness.
What inspired you to write the book?
I really first started writing this book in college, when I was a philosophy major at Pomona and Pitzer College. I was putting down ideas. I wanted my book to be in some ways a philosophical treatise. Then years later, when my wife and I dropped off our youngest daughter at college, it was so quiet in the house, we were actually quite depressed, and I wasn’t sure what my purpose was. Then the thought, what about that book you had wanted to write about in college? The idea kept coming and coming…
What is your philosophical thesis?
Vedic philosophy has, really, in my mind solved most of the problems that Western philosophy has been grappling with for thousands of years, way back to Plato. How do I express that? How do I incorporate everything from various traditions that I think has great knowledge and great truth? How do I put that together?
Were there any personal experiences that helped shape the book?
A 10-day period when I indulged in various advanced practices of Transcendental Meditation. It’s fictionalized in the novel, but I would not have written this book had I not had those experiences.
What year did you start meditating?
How did you get started?
I had seen an article in Time about Maharishi and Transcendental Meditation and a study that was done at the University of Hawaii. How students who meditated got better grades. I was heading off to college and a little worried about fitting in, because I was younger. I had applied early and was skipping my senior year. I had always been interested in meditation but didn’t know which one was right. So I thought maybe this is a place to start. Then not long after that, my mom was heading out to a lecture at our temple down the street, which was sponsoring a lecture on Transcendental Meditation. And I said,” “Oh, I just read an article about that! Can I can I come with you?” We went down there and when the rabbi turned it over to these two TM teachers, one turned out to be a woman who lived on our block, Este Russo. She was this calm, really wonderful woman. Afterwards I went up to her and said, “Would you teach me?” She said, yes, walk down to my house, whenever you want. Come over. I’ll teach you. So I think the next day I knocked on her door…
Your debut is titled “To Be Enlightened” How you define “Enlightenment”
It refers to consciousness, or Self-knowledge, awareness. There are different levels. Every great tradition has this idea all the way back to Plato. Plato talked about a man of knowledge. And how people were able to pierce this cloud of understanding and actually understand the deeper Truth. We all sort of know about that. There are even commercials, you know, where the guy goes up to the Himalayas and finds some cave and meets this great master. I’m referring to a state of consciousness, a higher consciousness, that isn’t owned by any tradition. It’s just inherent, a birthright of everyone, every sentient being. We all have the potential to experience it, become aware of it.
Was it challenging to write your first novel?
My first few attempts, I would get editors, and I would hear either, “You don’t know what you’re doing” and “You don’t know how to write fiction.” One editor said, “You don’t read much fiction, do you?” Because I was writing it like a philosophy professor, or, you know, like a term paper. Someone told me, “Show don’t tell,” and also, “Write what you know.” I thought that was good advice. So there is a lot of who I am, what I wanted to be, my own self-doubts, my own self-reflection in the book.
There is a growing body of evidence that meditation has a lot of health benefits. Do you ever prescribe meditation to your patients?
In some ways, I’m almost forced by my patients to talk to them about meditation. It’s such a common thing. I’m in primary care. I take care of the same patients ideally for many years. Some I’ve taken care of for over 30 years. Sometimes I take care of their kids and even their grandkids. A lot of people will come to me and say, you know, I’m stressed, I’m anxious, I try to calm down, I don’t know how to calm down. I don’t want to take a pill. I read about relaxation and meditation, but I do it and it doesn’t seem to work.
So we talk about it and I can help guide them in that way. I consider it one more tool in my toolbox. My goal is to do whatever I can to help my patients. To think that I just do western medicine or just eastern is limiting. There doesn’t have to be any line in the sand and many other doctors are the same.
Why this book now? Is there a particular timeliness for it?
There’s so much information now. We’re overloaded with it, and it takes more clarity of mind to discern the Truth. Meditation is many things. It helps get rid of stress and helps purify and stabilize the body and the mind. And as you get rid of all these external strains and stresses, you become more of who you are, you can see the world more clearly, you can live a more loving life. Those are the basis of humanity, you’re really becoming, more of what we were meant to be. In spite of the anger and division, I believe we all are loving, kind spiritual beings. We all come from different angles. We all are on different paths, but the paths over time converge to what is really a higher version of ourselves. The closer we get to the real Truth, the closer we all get together.
I’ve already written about fifty pages of the sequel. It still needs a lot of work, but I like where it’s going. The focus is more on the character of the wife Sarah and goes deeper into their mystical love from her point of view—how she uses her will to make sure that she spends eternity with her Abe!
Thank you, Alan J Steinberg and Bruce Mason
About the Author
Alan J. Steinberg, MD is board-certified in Internal Medicine and practices with the Cedars-Sinai Medical Group in Beverly Hills, California. He also serves as one of the attending physicians for the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers. He grew up in Las Vegas, Nevada, where he learned Transcendental Meditation (TM) in 1975. Earning his undergraduate degree at Pomona and Pitzer Colleges in Claremont, California, he went on to attend the University of Nevada School of Medicine, receiving an MD degree in 1984. His first book was a non-fiction consumer’s guide, The Insider’s Guide to HMOs (Plume/Penguin), which garnered favorable reviews in the Los Angeles Times and other publications as well as appearances on The Today Show, 20/20 and C-Span. The book helped sway the direction that healthcare was heading in the late 1990s. His debut novel, To Be Enlightened (Adelaide Books, 2021), is a work of visionary fiction, inspired by some of his own experiences as a lifelong practitioner of TM. Dr. Steinberg lives with his wife of over thirty-five years in Los Angeles, California. They are the proud parents of three young adults.